The other day I took one of my sons to a team party at a local sports bar. We all arrived separately and I did not even sit with the rest of the group because I had a book that I needed to finish in order to complete a review on time. My son wandered by my high topped table every twenty minutes, grabbed a French fry and then went back to shooting pool with his friends. I sipped unsweetened iced tea and read. I was clearly not part of any group but somehow, the server was able to figure out that my son played on the same team that was celebrating so, when I received my bill, I found that I had been charged a mandatory 18% gratuity because I was part of a group of six or more patrons.
I was more than a bit flabbergasted, not because 18% of my bill was all that much, but because the server, who had been quite inattentive, had the nerve to add the mandatory gratuity even though I was seated on the far side of the restaurant away from all of the noise. I did not complain, however, because I would have given the server more than 18% anyway, since the math at 21% would have allowed me to leave $15 without asking for change and because I routinely tip above 20% when I take up a table without ordering anything.
Forcing an 18% gratuity on an unsuspecting patron may be one way to get more of a gratuity, but if you are a food server, here are some better ways:
Give Good Service: OK. This should go without saying but as a food server, you really need to know when someone is sitting at one of your tables and you need to get to the table within a minute or two of a patron sitting down. Keep an eye on beverages. If you work in a restaurant that offers free refills, don’t make the patron ask for a refill. Keep the glasses full. If a meal is taking longer than expected, keep the patron informed. Lastly, don’t make your patron hunt you down to get the bill.
Understand Allergy Concerns: If a patron asks you whether there are peanut products or shellfish in a dish, don’t respond with a casual “I don’t think so” or, worse, a blank stare coupled with a confused “I don’t know.” If a diner asks about peanuts, shellfish or other ingredients, chances are good that they have a food allergy — in many cases a food allergy that could be life threatening. You need to be 100% sure of the ingredients — including the risk of cross contamination — before you respond to a question about ingredients. If you don’t know the answer, explain that you will check with the head of the kitchen to find out.
Don’t Call me “Hon” I answer to many things, but “Hon” is not one of them. Unless you are the spouse of a patron, such a familiar reference is inappropriate. You don’t have to call me “Sir” but you should not cross the line into too much familiarity either. Also, please do not sit at my table when you take my order.
Make Sure My Order is Correct: I know a lot of restaurants have one person take an order and others serve it. Even if you are not bringing the meal to my table, you should still visit the table quickly to make sure that everything is as it should be.
Remember Me: A server who remembers me from a previous visit is usually going to get a better tip even if everything else at the restaurant goes wrong with the meal.
But Don’t Assume I Will Always Order the Same Thing: I often order the same thing when I go to a familiar eatery, but not always. It is wonderful that you remember my preferences, but please ask me before you put in my order. (I used to love the New York Diner in Watertown Square, Watertown, MA when I was in college. I will always remember that the woman who worked the counter always remembered everyone there after one visit. One day I went in about 4 years after I had graduated and I sat down at the counter wanting a milk shake, but before I had even gotten the stool warm, I received a plate with 3 eggs, home fried potatoes and toast. I enjoyed them and then I ordered the milk shake that I wanted)
Be Mindful of Children at Other tables: My kids behave in restaurants. Some other children do not. If I am in a restaurant, I do not want to be bothered by children at other tables and I will notice if you are able to bring those other children something — anything — that will calm them down. Of course, I know that is not your job, but it will certainly enhance your tip.
Don’t Serve Anyone to Intoxication: I do not drink alcohol but I do not mind others enjoying a cocktail, a glass of wine or a beer. Nevertheless, I do not want to endure anyone who is intoxicated. Know when to cut off your patrons. Chances are good that the law requires you to do that anyone.
Compensate Me for Delays: If the kitchen takes too long with my meal, talk to your manager and find a way to compensate me for my time. If one meal is late, make that meal complimentary. If we have a really horrific experience, get the manager to make the entire meal complimentary. Do whatever it takes to get me to come back to your restaurant, whether that means explaining the delay or giving me value for the cost of my time or the bad experience I had.
Don’t Ask Me if I want Change When I Pay: If I want you to “keep the change” I will certainly let you know. I recall a few years ago going into a restaurant by myself when I was on a business trip. The bill was $21. I gave the server $40 when I paid and the server, after looking to see how much I had provided, asked me if I wanted change. I was shocked. As a result, the server, who would have received a $5 tip, received a $4 tip.
What can a server do to increase the amount that you tip? What server behavior will actually cause you to lower your tip?